Wow, my Bank Holiday weekend began with me getting off a train to meet Jo in Greenwich and walking straight into one of those biblical type downpours that really, really makes you wish you’d put you coat on before stepping off the train. If I were a film, I’d be “Drenched in 60 Seconds”. Well, more like 30… We dried off with a drink in the Picturehouse, walked into the record shop we always walk past and I found 3 pieces of vinyl; Public Image’s First Issue, Rising Above Bedlam by Jah Wobble and Tricky’s follow up to his debut LP, Nearly God. This was a key 1st year at uni album for me, so you can imagine how pleased I was to find the vinyl 15 years later.
15 years… fucking hell!
On Saturday morning, Ghostpoet’s Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam arrived and my early impressions of it are that I like it, I like it a lot. Particularly the Cash And Carry Me Home track. I spent Saturday night in Clapham with two of my oldest mates and Jo, before closing the night in an empty curry house. Khan’s, if you’re interested.
Yes, we’ve arrived at the place most of you have come here to read about: Manchester. Or more accurately, Manchester United v Arsenal. Up at 8am, I met Asa at St Pancras in time for our 10.17 train to Luton Parkway. By the time we had arrived at Luton to catch another train to Kettering, we had learnt that Sagna was out and Vermaelen was also unlikely to figure. “Let’s not bother” said Asa. He was only half serious, or so I thought.
Kettering: The Daily Star, Jessie Wallace, a cheese and ham toastie and the arrival of the Craddockmobile, containing James and younger brother, Marc. The bar open, 8 cold Red Stripe for Asa and myself, Budweiser for Marc. Spurs v Manchester City on the radio. And hey, at least we weren’t at home with a more or less full strength side being humiliated. The amount of Manchester United shirts we passed on the motorway was quite instructive, if not entirely unexpected.
As we joked about the possibility of the match being “historic”, Asa made another plea for us to forget about the football and just go to the pub. However, soon enough, we were in Manchester, sucking down on a bottle of Grant’s and preparing ourselves for the lions den. We stood outside Old Trafford and chatted with another friend, Chris, who had also made the long journey north, but was in the company of two Manc friends. We joked about finding him hanging from the statue of Matt Busby that stands outside the ground. Oh, how we laughed.
Beers in the ground, in an absolutely jumping away section- bottles thrown at a tv bearing the image of the latest money grabber to depart N5 saw the tv quickly switched off- it felt pretty good to be a Gooner. and we headed for our seats. “If it gets to 3-0, we’ll go to the bar”, I promised Asa. Our team sheet made for sobering examination, but in the early exchanges, it didn’t feel like we were just waiting to be steamrollered. But then Anderson lobbed the ball over our defence and I distinctly remember involuntarily murmuring, “Oh, no way” just before Danny Wellbeck nodded the ball over a stranded Wojciech Szczesny.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmongs!” cried the Manchester United fans, “We are mongs!”
Okay, maybe they didn’t, but they might as well have done.
“We’ll race you back to London! came the stinging retort.
But then: A lifeline. Theo Walcott, right beneath us, down in the penalty area. A penalty! I put my head on Asa’s shoulder, partly in relief, but also partly in a “I don’t think he’s going to score” way. Robin did indeed choose the worst moment ever, for his worst penalty ever and, for the beleaguered United keeper, David de Gea, it must have felt like Christmas come early as he pushed the ball away. Within seconds, our misery was compounded as Ashley Young cut in from the left and unleashed what the pros refer to as a “worldie” into Szczesny’s top left corner. Wayne Rooney’s free kick into the other corner and, as promised, we ran for the bar.
And so, after approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes of tedium from this Arsenal team, we missed our first goal of the new Premier League season as Walcott shot through de Gea’s legs. I wonder if that was the final straw for Asa. He looked at me- James and Marc having joined us by then- and announced that he was off. As in leaving the ground and heading back on his own, done with Arsenal for the forseeable. Woah. But off he went.
James told me there was a spare seat with him and Marc, so I went and stood with them and someone started singing “We love you Arsenal, we do”. It took. Free kick to United, a soft award I thought, Rooney, again, into the corner.
“We love you Arsenal, we do”
A Nani chip over the stranded Szczesny.
“We love you Arsenal, we do.”
Park firing in his customary goal against us. James looked at me, looked at Marc and the decision was made. “We love you Arsenal, but not enough to stand through the rest of this nightmare. Sorry.”
By the time we made the car, a roar had reached our ears. Was it another one? We weren’t sure. Another, much, much, much bigger roar enveloped us a couple of minutes later and that told us what we needed to know. It sounded frightening, that roar, as if it could conceivably have been heard across town, at Eastlands, or perhaps even all the way down south in SW6.
The journey home was a quiet one, solace was sought in the bottle of scotch Asa had left in the car and the music of the National. In truth, we all felt so bad that perhaps even the Red |Hot Chilli Peppers would have done. It was about 9pm by the time we got back to Kettering and James and I went for a pint. I might not have needed another drink but, having done all the driving, it was certain that James did.
I guess, when I heard about the way our fans had kept going both during and after the game, I felt bad that we had left early and walked out on our team. It’s not their fault that they weren’t good enough to compete with United. And it’s not Arsene’s fault that Song and Gervinho got themselves suspended and so missed this game, or that Sagna and Vermaelen were also unavailable. But it is his fault that the cover throughout the squad is, currently, so inadequate. This squad was short at the start of the season, we all knew that. And, in the absence of five first team players, we have seen the consequences. Furthermore, we have seen the consequences, if we are to take Arsene at his word, of playing a Champions League qualifier that we should never have had to play. For that reason, I think it’s right that Arsenal have moved to compensate the fans that travelled up on Sunday. A bad day I can accept, but this bad day was born as a direct consequence of a fairly disastrous summer and it shouldn’t have come to this.
All that said, although we only have one point from nine, it’s important to remember that with another 35 league matches to play, there are a further 105 points to play for. With Mertesacker and Santos apparently close to reinforcing the group, and another 27 hours to go till the deadline, who knows what shape the squad will be in when they reconvene for the Swansea game?
Ghostpoet- Cash And Carry Me Home